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Being Benedictine

Living the Rule of St. Benedict in Daily Life

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Hospitality

Home Is The Nicest Word There Is

Home is where the heart is.

Home is not a place, it’s a feeling.

A house is made of walls and beams, a home is built with love and dreams.

(And, of course) Home sweet home.

home is the nicest

Platitudes? Perhaps. But what may seem overly sentimental is what we yearn for in a home—a place of comfort, expression, warmth, understanding, love, hope, and shelter. An ideal home is a refuge, a haven, a sanctuary that provides safety and protection, a shelter in more ways than one. Our home can be an expression of our personality and values. We bring our whole self into a house and make it a home.

On day 50-something of “sheltering at home,” I am grateful for the roof over our head and all that our home provides us. Our current home is the result of “packing lightly” and “crossing the threshold”, themes from The Soul of a Pilgrim by Christine Valters Paintner.

“The journey of pilgrimage is about returning home with a new awareness of what home really means.”—The Soul of a Pilgrim

The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within ...

Five years ago, my husband and I put our house up for sale with no idea what we were going to do when it sold. It was an adventure—kind of exciting, a little scary, but certainly a threshold opportunity to see what our next step would be. We went through a process of considering what we really needed, what we would keep, what would be given away or sold, what might be tucked away in storage until we knew more decisively what we would do.

Some essential questions to consider in “The Practice of Packing Lightly” are: What would create more lightness in your life? What can you let go of to pack more lightly?

We knew the home we had lived in for nine years was not the place we wanted to be forever. Coming to that decision did not happen overnight. We had tossed it around, tabled it, brought it back up…but finally decided that we had been standing at the threshold of this decision for far too long. For us it came down to two issues: we did not need as much space or stuff and we wanted to have more free time to spend on things we loved, not just working on, or thinking about, household projects.

It felt right to let go of an attachment to our house and our things to see what might be in store for us. We were brought to a threshold, a clearing out of the old, and were ready to move into the uncertainty that lied ahead.

A voice comes to your soul saying,

Lift your foot. Cross over.

Move into emptiness of question and answer and question.

—Rumi, The Glance

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Card Name: Witness    I am one who is Witness to self.
I am one who stands tall
Upright, resilient, longsuffering
Despite winds of change.
I am one who, with the pace of a praying monk,
Glides gently through breeze and shadow, clouds and sea.
I stand centered
I move with purpose
I am one who is Witness to self
It is time
The door is open.

“The LORD said to Abram: Go forth from your land, your relatives, and from your father’s house to a land that I WILL show you. I WILL make of you a great nation, and I WILL bless you; I WILL make your name great, so that you WILL be a blessing.”—Genesis 12:1-3

In the story of Abram and Sarai (Genesis 12:1-9; The Soul of a Pilgrim, Chapter 2), they are guided to a new life in an unknown and distant land. When practicing Lectio Divina with this story, I imagine the couple had a sense of loss at leaving their familiar home, but that they also desired an adventure, something new. Despite mixed feelings, they were open to hearing the blessings God promised, they trusted God’s will. Continue reading “Home Is The Nicest Word There Is”

Naked Before God

Just one year ago, I started reading “The Soul of a Pilgrim” by Christine Valters Painter in preparation for a trip to visit family in Germany and to go on a Benedictine pilgrimage to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

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Kloster Benedicktbeuren, Germany

“When we take inward and outward journeys, we can be pilgrims as long as we stay open to new experiences.”—Christine Valters Paintner, The Soul of a Pilgrim

If we are “attentive to the divine at work in our lives through deep listening, patience, (and) opening ourselves to the gifts that arise in the midst of discomfort” (Paintner), we are on pilgrimage. A pilgrimage may be intentional or not: becoming a new parent, losing a loved one, resolving a relationship conflict, or going on a spiritual retreat can be a pilgrimage if one seeks to learn, reflect and be transformed from the experience. Our life itself is a pilgrimage.

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Bohemian Alps, Nebraska

The cousin I visited in Germany was planning a pilgrimage of his own this summer. Jefferey and his wife, Sabine, were planning to visit Nebraska for the first time. I was excited to show him the Bohemian Alps, where his father (my uncle) grew up, the village where he went to school and to introduce him to family he has never met. Instead, Nebraska, Germany, and countries all over the world are on a different kind of pilgrimage altogether—the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of planning or hosting trips, we are staying put.

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Spring came on time, pandemic or not.

The pandemic transformed our world in an instant, personally and collectively—how, where and if we work has changed; how students are learning is different; the economy, health care, personal finances, shopping and travel no longer look like they used to. There is nothing that hasn’t been impacted by the pandemic.

Although each of us is affected differently, we are all on a pilgrimage, not of our own choosing, but from circumstances unimaginable just a few months ago. Still, we can “make the choice for the journey to become meaningful and soulful.” (Painter) We can choose this time as an opportunity to become more aware of who we are and who we want to be.

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Despite the early spring flowers, Nebraska had an April snowstorm.

I have returned to “The Soul of a Pilgrim,” for insight, re-reading the book and also participating in an online retreat with the Abbey of the Arts, to navigate this pilgrimage of uncertainty and its library of emotions, as Mary Pipher calls it. I go from gratitude to grief in short order. I am both content and irritable, joyful and disappointed, trusting and afraid. In this smaller world of “stay at home”, I have a heightened awareness of the little things, both the beauty and the idiosyncrasies. More hours alone together in our home, my husband and I brush up against each other with all our uncertainty, anxiety, and fear, but also gratitude and joy. We have a lot of fun but can also get on each other’s nerves. We are a bundle of contradictions now more than ever. Continue reading “Naked Before God”

Cell Phones, Paying Attention and Hospitality

As a high school teacher, I am concerned about the level of attentiveness my students pay to their teachers and classmates. I wonder how often they are truly present to another, not to mention their own emotional, spiritual, intellectual and physical needs.

Their cell phones have become so distracting that I fear they lack the social skills needed to develop personal relationships that are essential to living a full and rewarding life, not to mention becoming a valuable employee and citizen. Students have shared that their phones have become a tool to avoid fully engaging with others or the moment—when experiencing discomfort, their cell phones provide an escape.

I know this is not a phenomenon exclusive to teenagers—many adults struggle with respectful and appropriate use of technology as well. I need to practice awareness myself.

Deeply saddened (and frustrated) by this, I was struck this morning by a commercial using the hashtag #EatTogether with this heart-warming message:

Each of the characters would have likely gone to their apartment for a meal alone if it not for the family who extended a hand of hospitality and an offer of a meal to include everyone.

Of course, we need our solitude, but how often do we consider the one who may need an invitation? Who needs to be accompanied? Who needs a meal? Or who has more than their fair share of solitude, and desperately needs to be noticed?

We must look up long enough from our cell phone, and all the distractions of a busy life, to remember the Benedictine value of practicing hospitality.  

St. Benedict insisted that hospitality be one of the highest values for monasteries, writing “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ.” (RB 53:1) Being hospitable is our opportunity to respond to God’s great generosity towards us.  Hospitality is being present to others—taking time to enjoy one another’s presence and being attentive to what the other is sharing.

hospitality

The #EatTogether commercial is the brainchild of a Canadian company President’s Choice-NatureFresh Farms. Concerned with the challenging task families face with balancing work, activities, children, sports, and school combined with the increased use of technology, they hope to inspire families to remember the importance of eating meals together and extending that invitation to their community—in other words, practicing hospitality.

 “The monastery was to be a place of comfort and of solace and of safety for everyone. The monastery was the place where anyone would be welcomed., where rich and poor alike could come and find seats side by side despite the world around them where status counted dearly and classism was a given.”—Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily

Offering a meal, listening, and paying attention to the present moment are all ways that we can be a monk in the world. We can offer comfort, solace, and safety for others. We can welcome all.

We can extend this hospitality for those people who are in our daily lives—at school, work, home, down the street—but we are also called to extend hospitality to “those living on the margins.” There is room at the table for everyone, as Carrie Newcomer writes—

“Let our hearts not be hardened to those living on the margins,
There is room at the table for everyone.
This is where it all begins, this is how we gather in,
There is room at the table for everyone.

Too long we have wandered, burdened and undone,
But, there is room at the table for everyone.
Let us sing the new world in, this is how it all begins,
There is room at the table for everyone.

Chorus:
There is room for us all, and no gift is too small.
There is room at the table for everyone.
There’s enough if we share, come on pull up a chair.
There room at the table for everyone.

 

How can you practice hospitality with your loved ones? At your workplace? In your neighborhood? With those marginalized?

*Photo in heading taken in Montes de Oca, Argentina with the Mogues family. The importance of the family and community meal has not been forgotten this family or country.

For more on hospitality:

Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ: Hospitality and The Holy Trinity

Ode to Mary: Lover and Giver of Life

Hospitality on Pilgrimage

Ode to Mary: Lover and Giver of Life

Four years ago we lost Mary Gehr, lover and giver of life. I was blessed to have her as a mother-in-law. My husband, Joe, said in her eulogy, “We were taught the meaning of selflessness, caring, patience and compassion for humankind. We were taught to see people for who they were, not for who the world tells us they are.

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My mother’s arms were always open and welcoming to anyone, it didn’t matter who you were, where you came from or what you wanted, for my mom, it was about what she could do to help…Whenever you saw Mary, you would see a big smile on her face. It never mattered what kind of mood she was in; she was always happy to see you. If you didn’t want a hug, you were going to get one anyway.

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Sometimes I think she should have gone into politics. I think if she was the Secretary of State, a lot of countries would end their conflicts and hug each other instead. If you only met Mary for a few minutes, she would make an impression on you that would last a lifetime. Couldn’t our country use a few more Mary Gehrs right now?” Continue reading “Ode to Mary: Lover and Giver of Life”

Humor is the Hand of Hospitality: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 6

hospitality

Hospitality can look different from one situation to another. It can be opening one’s home to another or serving a meal, but it can also be cracking a joke to break the ice or ease some tension. Humor is the hand of hospitality. Today I get my chance to practice.

Wednesday, June 19—This day begins with a trip to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, located in the Franconia region of Bavaria, Germany. It is a well-known medieval old town, having survived the Thirty Years War and World War II (limited damage that was repaired). Rothenburg, a walled village with many towers, is part of the popular Romantic Road through southern Germany.

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In Rothenburg, there were many sites to see—churches, garden walks, spectacular views, quaint shops, many Christmas stores, a part Gothic/part Renaissance Town Hall, and beautiful fountains.

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Continue reading “Humor is the Hand of Hospitality: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 6”

A Busload of Hospitality: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 4

“Pilgrimage calls us to yield our own agendas and follow where we are being led.” —Christine Valters Painter, The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within

pilgrim tour

Many times in the months leading up to the pilgrimage, I perused the informational brochure outlining where we would visit each day and where we would stay, anticipating the trip ahead. The pace and routine of the previous pilgrimage gave me a good idea of what to expect—but what is actually experienced lies in the gaps of the agenda, in the conversations and relationships with others, and in the details of the day that cannot be planned or controlled. This is where the grace of God enters—sometimes it is in the form of discomfort and challenges and other times in opportunities that new insights and “aha moments” of new understanding bring.

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I am at a threshold, a doorway, entering into a time and space of letting go as I pray in my mantra—“Trust God, peace like a river flows.” I know that surrender can eventually bring peace, wonder, surprise, openness, vulnerability, and/or joy, but I also know that not surrendering can bring tension, worry, expectation, guilt, anger, resentment, and/or disappointment. I want to surrender to whatever the moment brings. And if and when those less desirable, more challenging moments come, I want to surrender self-judgment too. Ultimately, surrender is transformational—not in the moment, but over time. The experiences and the accompanying feelings will percolate over days, weeks, months, and begin to define a new part of my self.

schwarzach

“What’s your biggest takeaway?” many of my friends have asked.

My first thought is OMG, it was SO HOT!! How do people live without air conditioning?

The European heatwave made a big impression and impact, but it was only the last several days of our trip. There were many other takeaways that I will share as I travel through the itinerary in my reflections. Join me on the journey through Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the outer pilgrimage, and the inner pilgrimage as I share my biggest takeaways—

Hospitality—History—Humor—Humility—Heat —Home
(the H thing was a total coincidence, but I took it as a good sign to keep writing.) Continue reading “A Busload of Hospitality: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 4”

Welcoming the Stranger: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 3

“Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ”—Rule of St. Benedict 53:1

Officially the Benedictine pilgrimage part of my trip does not start until I connect with thirty-six other pilgrims, but as I reflect on the readings/homily from Sunday, July 21, 2019 (the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C), it occurs to me that the week I spent with my cousins was just as much part of the pilgrimage. It was the embodiment of being Benedictine and of the hospitality demonstrated in these readings.

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For having only met once, Jefferey and Sabine were practically welcoming a stranger in their home and yet, they received me with enthusiasm, providing food, water, bath, and bed for several days. So, too, did Jennifer and Santhosh. They planned events and excursions; they took care of transportation and many other practical details. Jennifer rearranged a room, asked if I needed shampoo, soap, lotion, a light, a different blanket, more food, a glass of water…so much hospitality that Santhosh had to drag her out of the room, laughing, “Let her sleep, she is tired.” But, mostly we were in each other’s company—listening, talking, asking questions. We were present to each other.

In Genesis 18:1-10a, Abraham welcomes three strangers, running enthusiastically to greet them; he offers the choicest food, water, rest, and a foot bath (okay, no one gave me a foot bath, but I did have wonderful hot showers!) He provides the strangers, often illustrated as the three angels of the Holy Trinity icon, the practical concerns of being hospitable, but he also “wait(ed) on them under the tree while they ate.” He meets their needs, but also gives them his attention; he is present to them.

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In Luke 10:38-42, Martha welcomes Jesus into her home, working hard on the practical elements of serving a guest, perhaps preparing the food, cleaning a room for the visitor, and setting the table. Mary, on the other hand, simply sits with Jesus and listens. She gives him her attention; she is present to him. Surely, the practical things are important (otherwise no one would ever eat), but Jesus tells them that “Mary has chosen what is better.” Both the practical actions and being present, or contemplative, are important elements of hospitality and being Benedictine. Continue reading “Welcoming the Stranger: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 3”

I Don’t Know Nothin’

I don’t know nothin’.

Six years ago today, my father-in-law Marv passed away—so today, more than usual, I am thinking of him and missing our kitchen table conversations. We would talk about politics and religion, the economy and education, and the best brands of Cabernet for the cheapest prices. After sharing his wisdom, attempting to solve world problems, and philosophizing over a glass of wine, Marv would throw up his hands in disbelief and exclaim, “What do I know? I don’t know nothin’.”

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Marv and I enjoying some cheap Cabernet in Las Vegas.

He had thoughts, opinions and plenty of experience, but, self-admittedly, he felt he still didn’t know much. Marv said it often enough that it was the opening line in the eulogy my husband gave for his dad’s funeral. This phrase, “I don’t know nothin’” holds so much meaning, far beyond a simple or flippant segue into another subject, rather I believe he was saying “I have ideas, but I will stay open to other possibilities.”

I’m sure there was a time or two when he knew exactly how things should be, but they didn’t turn out the way he expected, as so often happens. Perhaps he meant—I surrender needing to know. Perhaps he meant—I don’t know it all. I don’t know the big picture. I don’t have all the answers. I thought I knew a lot, but now, I wonder if I know much at all. I am humbled by what I do not know. Continue reading “I Don’t Know Nothin’”

Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ: Hospitality and The Holy Trinity

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” he began, as we made the Sign of the Cross.

A few months after we had moved into our new home, one of my favorite monks, Fr. Thomas Leitner joined us for a special dinner and house blessing. After the introductory prayers and Scripture readings, Fr. Thomas sprinkled Holy Water that had been blessed at the Easter Vigil in each of our rooms—the living room, bedrooms, kitchen, upstairs, downstairs and even next door at Al and Beth’s house, our townhouse roofmates—and a little extra splash for our loyal Dachsy-Poo, Bailey. Our daughter, who was finishing her last year in college, would spend a few months living in our new home, but mostly it would become our empty nest. This blessing for our home was also a blessing for the next chapter in our lives.

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Fr. Thomas also gave us a special gift, a replica of Andrei Rublev’s Holy Trinity Icon. An icon, an image or religious picture, communicates a deeper spiritual meaning often used in prayer and meditation for Christians throughout the world. It was a special image for him, used as the holy card for his ordination and First Mass in 1992.*  He enthusiastically shared with us why he also felt it represented how we would welcome those who entered as guests and the hospitality we would extend in our new home. Continue reading “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ: Hospitality and The Holy Trinity”

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